Creative Nonfiction


Heartbreak; humans are the only creatures to feel it, or at least aware that they are feeling it.

That shattering feeling of despair, depression, often accompanied with loneliness, isolation and hopelessness, are the threads woven into the fabric of the human condition.

I’m no stranger to women breaking my heart; in fact, I’m rather intimate with it. My mother, many girls, and women I loved, spoiled, and gave my all to. But it was my little sister and best friend Jeni that shattered it beyond repair. It was on the day she passed away from a heroin overdose.

It was always me and my sister Jeni against the world, since I was twelve, and she was seven. That was the time our parents split up and divorced, and what a messy one it was. It was around that time, they forgot they had kids to raise, and instead became, and acted like children themselves.

My father had given my mother the gift of heartbreak. He broke up two marriages, by cheating on her with his friend’s wife.  My father had always been abusive to me right from a young age. I was born with health problems and complications and was always an easy target for him. For the first twelve years my mother was amazing, loving, and always there to stand up for me against my father. For those first twelve years, I felt very loved by her. Then afterwards; betrayal.  When he broke her heart, and trust, it changed something in her. Something, that from that day forward she took out on me.  Things were never the same after that, I no longer felt that strong mother and son bond, or unconditional love, I once knew.  From that moment on, I was constantly excluded from outings with the men she dated while my sister Jeni was not.  My once protective mother, now would give free reign to whoever she dated to put their hands on me.  That was when she was around, mostly she was out doing her own thing, and so it began me and my little sister, and best friend Jeni against the world.

My father is a very controlling and abusive man, a bully. It is said that every good story has a villain, and in my life story he has been mine. Even after he created the messy divorce, he felt compelled to come around our old childhood home, where my sister and I lived with our mother. She had a restraining order against him, and at that time, my sister was still his little girl, who then, did not know his abusive and mean side yet. So, he would only go through me. Attacking with physical, and emotional abuse demanding information about what was going on with the wife, and home he walked away from.  

To say I was scared of my father at that age would be an understatement, but in my thirteen-year-old brain, I thought If I moved in with him, I would know less, and in turn he would also stay away from my mother and sister. If I could just stay out of his way, maybe the abuse would stop. It didn’t. I moved in with my father, but the abuse only grew and worsened. This led to me having to live in a group home at 15 and being the only 11thgrader to have his own apartment at 16.

As my sister Jeni got older, she stayed with me in many of my apartments I lived in, as staying with my mother became less and less ideal. Her men came first and her children a far second.  I loved having my sister stay with me. We really got each other, we had the same sense of humor, and could make almost any dire situation fun. 

Just before my sister was twenty-one, she had once again come to stay with me in what would have been the sixth different apartment of mine; I was thrilled to call her my roommate in, since I had been on my own.  I had found out I was going to be an uncle for the first time. Jeni had found love with an old schoolmate of hers. She was truly happy, and I was so happy for her, as I was to welcome my beautiful niece to the world on June 14, 2001. 

Jeni and her boyfriend Mike, lived in Winnipeg, Canada where we all grew up; for just over a year after my niece Brianna was born. Mike’s parents had recently moved from Canada to Sunrise, Florida for a better life, more opportunities, and sunshine. My sister and her new family followed suit, and just a year later I was an uncle again this time to my nephew Brandon.

For the first couple years, the honeymoon phase was that of a super moon, it shone bright and they seemed like the perfect couple. My first time in Florida was just after my nephew turned one.  As a protective big brother, I was ecstatic to see my sister in love, and happy. She had everything I had hoped for, love, a family, and living in a beautiful place. My heart grew and pulsated with pride and genuine happiness for her. I had the best time spending time with her, and her new growing family. Sensing that wedding bells would soon be ringing for her, making her little growing family even more complete.

They never rung. More unfortunate still, history repeated itself; she had her own broken family, she found herself to be a single mother, like our own was.  She came back to Winnipeg. She wanted to go back to school and take a course to help her raise my nephew and niece. 

The month was September, the kids were still too young to be in school, my mother had offered my sister to stay with her and her husband. They did have a two-and-a-half-bedroom home after all.  Alcoholism ran deep on my mother’s side of the family. My mother was the one out of all her siblings who was able to side-step this addiction for many years. My father was never a drinker, which I thank God for. He was abusive enough without being on the sauce, I couldn’t imagine my life if he was.  Unfortunately, the man my mother married, did like his drink, and brought it out in my mother for her to like it too. This is how they spent their time; all their time. In fact, if my sister and I weren’t joining them, then we were not spending time with them at all. 

During the first couple months of my sister being back in Winnipeg and living with my mother, I would pick her up, take her to the job I helped her get as a bartender. I would pick up the kids and take them out like a good uncle should. There was a small point, while my sister still lived in Florida, that I was actually able to spend time with my mother and her husband, as long as I was willing and ready to drink that is. I’m not sure what it was, but once my sister was back, my mother did not have room in her life for both children again. Whether I was picking up my sister to take her to work, or the kids to do something fun, I was usually left out on the front door step or in the foyer at best.

It was just before Christmas, and whether my sister and her kids had worn out their welcome or wore into the drinking time of my mother and her husband she was asked to find new arrangements. So of course, her and the kids moved into my one-bedroom apartment with me. I gave them my room while I selflessly took the couch. They had stayed with me for the better part of a year, while my sister was finishing her course. My sister and the kids didn’t have a lot of positive male role models in their life; and her luck in the dating department, was normally a quick reveal to being one abusive loser after the other.  

The kids went to stay with their grandparents in Florida in the summer of 2010, I had just been accepted as a mature student and almost through my first year of college. My sister followed them out there months later after realizing Winnipeg had little to offer her anymore.  It was hard for me to be so far away from her and the kids after always being so close to them, and active in the lives. Three years had gone by and in December 2014, I had finally made my way out to Florida to see them. My sister had the kids enrolled in good schools, she was working under the table,  and radar, had a car, and a dog, and was renting a beautiful home for all of them. It was great to see. I left feeling proud, and happy, and relieved that my sister was doing so well. What I didn’t know then; was it would be the last time I would see my sister alive. Hear her voice, her laugh, and be able to spend time with her. 

Coming from the life we have; true happiness always seemed to be out of reach for my sister and I. Finding ourselves drawn to toxic relationships, often accompanied by some sort of addiction or other factor to help dull the pain from our lives. This is what happened to my sister soon after I Ieft.

She met a guy who at the time I’m sure she thought was everything, but he made her lose everything. Took everything from her, and the people that loved her. While I was many miles, and another country away I was often in the dark of what was going on, and how fast it was spinning out of control. My sister’s last love interest got her addicted to heroin. She lost everything. The kids went to live with their dad’s parents. My sister could not control her addiction, that she was looking down the barrel of, and with burnt bridges she became homeless. It was only when things became this bad that I began to learn the truth about it from a million miles away. 

I tried my best to help her with the limited supports I had, I too was struggling. I had contacted the Canadian Consulate on her behalf trying to get her home so she could stay with me and I could help her. She could only reach out to me through messenger when she was in Wi-Fi hotspots. I sent her money through Western Union, scared that some of it may be going towards her addiction, but hopeful, that it was going towards food, or a hotel night stay, or toiletries.  I had never felt so helpless, as I was doing all that I could in my power to help her.

It was June 2017, after a major back injury, I had to find different work where I was an Educational Assistant at an elementary school. The school year was winding down, I had just starting dating a single mother, things were not great, but ok. I was on my lunch hour when I had seen a call go to voice mail from my nephew and niece’s grandmother. The message stated my sister was found in a hotel room and brought into ICU and it did not look good.   While I had not talked to either of them for a while, my first reaction was to contact my parents.  My mother already knew but did not feel the desire to contact me, nor would she help me with my airfare there when I asked her for help. My father had no interest in going to see Jeni. After borrowing money from a friend, I still made it there a day and a half before my mother and her husband did.

In her hospital room I sat; a playlist of some her favorite music on my laptop, with one ear bud in her ear, and one in mine. This, is how I spent the days until hospital visiting hours were over. Hoping she knew I was there, imagining that maybe some of her favorite songs were getting through as she lay hooked up to a life support machine. When my mother finally arrived; her only words to me was if I would move to let her sit where I had been for as long

has the hospital had let me. I went for a walk only to find out when I returned that my mother hadn’t stayed as long as I thought she would.

Too hard to see her like that, the first thing we might had been in agreement about but yet I could not leave. This was a Thursday, on the Saturday my mother made the decision to take my sister Jeni off of life support. Her funeral was two days later, at the kid’s grandparent’s place as their grandfather was a pastor once upon a time ago. My father and stepfather were not in attendance. My mother and him also skipped my niece’s 16th birthday that was only two days later; again, at her grandparents.

While, I was trying to be strong in the company of my nephew and niece, I was anything but. I was a broken wreck of the man I had been just a week prior. When I got back to Winnipeg, I had felt more alone than ever. The woman I was dating was not ready to be supportive during my tragedy, so instead broke up with me over social media.  I turned to alcohol and cannabis to try and cope with everything I was feeling, and then to suicide by trying the same overdose route that took my sister. Not with heroin but a cocktail of whatever pills I could get my hands on. I woke up handcuffed to a hospital bed, the fresh taste of charcoal in my mouth to go along with my freshly pumped stomach.  When I was released I headed home not feeling any better, but now shame was thrown into the mixture of feelings blending around in my brain and my heart.  It wasn’t long after that, I had a revelation that I was here for a reason; and it was to honor my sister.

I wanted to do something to raise money for Overdose Awareness. I started a Facebook page for my sister called JL Overdose Awareness, and after a little research while our city was in the depths of a meth crisis; realized there were only 16 places in Canada walking for Overdose Awareness; and we were not one of them. With International Overdose Awareness Day which falls on August 31 less than 2 months away; I used my own personal money to fund Winnipeg’s first Overdose Awareness walk in honor of Jeni. This led to some media attention I never wanted. When I first had the idea for it, I thought it would be healing for myself, and maybe some of her friends would come out, I never expected the turnout it received. It became much bigger than me; quickly. Bringing people together that shared a similar loss, and sadness, that I carried like the weight of a cast iron cross on my shoulders; crushing its weight down into my heart. 

I started my Drop the Needle, Pick up the Pace walk in honor of my sister in 2018, and did it again in August of 2019 as well. I received a letter from our city mayor for my efforts in trying to bring our city together over what has become a worldly epidemic. While my efforts had made the community newspaper, and many of the local news channels; my parents or other family members never attended either walk. Neither did any of my friends who knew her. This was a real painful eye opener for me. I felt utterly alone in a city I grew up in my whole life; while always putting my friends and others first. Yet in my hour of need, I felt trapped in glass walls getting buried by sand. Sitting at home every day after work, smoking weed, trying to numb the pain. Nothing seemed to be doing the healing trick, not the walk I started, not getting high, not working in a field with people that shared some of the same struggles my sister went through.

At the end of September, I became an international traveler for the first time, ending up in Chiang Mai, Thailand where I completed my TESOL course. Now I sit writing this story in Ayutthaya Thailand, where I’ve been teaching English to young learners since November.  It has been a lonely three months since I got here, which is I guess to be expected in a strange town, in a foreign country, with language barriers. It does beat feeling, that way back home though.

There was finally a break in the loneliness when a beautiful Thai girl came into my life just before the new year started, in fact we brought it in together. The passion between us started off fast, and furious, and it had my heart racing like a ten-second car. She came from her home in Bangkok to stay with me in Ayutthaya for eleven days, I had never felt so happy, as we shared so many beautiful moments, and experiences in that week and a half.

It’s like I was introduced to happiness for the first time, and not since my sister, had there been a girl I wanted to care for and help as much, in every area of her life.

Since her return to Bangkok, she’s been distant. I worry about my history repeating itself, as I once again fear feeling such heartbreak.

February 09, 2020 11:05

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